New Project: Analyzing how folks read comics

The biggest thing that I’ve been up to here in the ivory tower is work related to developing a way to quantifiably analyze how people read comics.

Here’s a peek at the eye tracker that I’m trying build. I’ll be changing the code so that eye movement paths are recorded for later analysis.

The hypothesis that I’m moving forward with is based upon the recent work of Frank Santoro regarding page layouts. Do the natural harmonics of the comics page determine how the reading experience flows?  It would seem like they intuitively do, but it doesn’t seem that we know how. If one deviates from respecting the harmonics of the page, what does the reader’s eye do? Is there back tracking? Are sections read over multiple times?  It is my belief that with this quantitative data you can begin to have a way to explain why some comics read better than others.There are many directions that this work can go in.

Unfortunately, due to budget constraints, I can’t seem to find a way to capture how comics are read on paper and will have to settle with having test subjects read off of screens or projections. I know that Frank would probably argue that the reading of comics project by light on a screen is a wholly different one from reading print comics, but for now it’s going to have to do. This is an exploration after all.(Here’s a device that could possibly handle eye tracking of print comics:the EyeSeeCam.)

On a side note, while I’m focusing this particular work on analyzing the relationship between semantic units on the page, page layout and effectiveness of storytelling related to comics, this kind of work is applicable to any kinds of visual documents. Does a poster read well? Why does that infographic blow?

If you have any recommendations of comics pages that I should have people read, let me know in the comments. (One page stories would seem to be best in that they contain complete ideas that don’t need further context. That is to say, Big Tex by Chris Ware would be good, as would most of Ivan Brunetti’s work.)

I’ll keep you posted on the development of this work.Santoro Format

Wilfred Santiago interviewed at the Comics Journal

 In the mainstream most of the time they make cartoons and such look like this dumb thing, but whether it’s the most powerful cartoon known to man, Mickey Mouse, the cartoons that can piss enough Muslims off to commit acts of terrorism, or the inspiration of some imagery for contemporary movements like Anonymous or the OWS, it’s obvious you can’t fuck with cartoons. 

Wilfred Santiago

Wilfred Santiago talks a bit with Eric Buckler at the Comics Journal. It’s a short, but interesting little interview. Check it out.

Odds and Ends: Pillbox Cover

I’ve recently been working on covers for the Tartan’s arts and culture magazine, Pillbox. I’m using this as a way to teach myself the basics of visual composition, clean illustration and strong typography. Hopefully the Tartan let’s me keep making the covers. They’re nice challenges.

Here’s the digital version that I sent for approval. Nothing too fancy. I’ll let you know how it looks when it prints.

Color and Design in Comics

A while back, Gene Fama put together some essays online that explore the process of effective comics production. I found this courtesy of Ed Piskor’s blog. The process section that I found particularly interesting was on coloring. I would certainly argue that unless making art comix or anything avant garde as a commercial illustrator, your best bet is to respect the principles that Fama puts forward.

Truth betold, No one wants to see the Incal recolored nor does it ever need to be. (Before After)

Here are some morsels to pique your interest.

Computers are wonderful. They’re especially good at reducing the costs that prevent entry into fields of endeavor. People who can’t afford rent on a comic shop can now open an online store with very little overhead. People who can’t handle Dr. Martin dyes can color and “undo” their mistakes with a click of the mouse. The only problem is that the people with the discipline to master Dr. Martin dyes are more likely to be those with the discipline to use good taste.

And another:

If you look at Herge´s coloring in Tintin it’ll look strong and primary, but if you actually try to match his colors you’ll find they’re quite pastel. Similarly, good painters almost never use colors directly from the tube with no mixing. Good coloring is often about finding a shade just outside the primary shade.

Can dead men die again?

Thanks to Phantom of The Attic Comics in Pittsburgh, I’ve gotten the pleasure to experience the 1986 mini-series put together by Andrew Helfer and Jose Luís García-López. They were kind enough to bundle the 4 part series and to sell it at the ever reasonable cover price of 75cents a pop.

If you’ve read this blog, you’ve probably picked up that I’m not too huge a superhero fan. Nevertheless, these Deadman stories have really caught my fancy. They’re fun, extremely well drawn and have a great sense of page design. I’ll scan some pages to show you what I mean real soon.

For the uninitiated, this was at a time when DC was reinventing its characters. The story is intended to follow directly on the heels of the events in original series (at that point just recently reprinted in a 7 issue mini-series)…thereby ignoring and negating most of the other Deadman stories published in the ’70s and early ’80s.

Helfer’s Letter in the first issue was interesting and particularly helpful in contextualizing the 4 part story arc in the history of the Deadman character. It’s a weird story that evidences the narrative puzzles that the idea of continuity poses to the hundreds of different illustrators and writers playing together in the DC and Marvel sandbox. This aspect of the DC and Marvel Universe is one that is odd, and that Grant Morrison rightly expands upon in his Animal Man series.

I’ll keep you posted on more of my reading and how the editorial shift of Deadman’s character evolves away from mystery towards a consistent style and reality of essentially no more than a superhero.